HMT Royal Edward
The Royal Edward, originally named Cairo, was built in Govan, Scotland for the Egyptian Mail Steamship Company. She was launched in 1907 and the British- owned company operated a mail service between Alexandria and Marseilles. The enterprise was unsuccessful and she and her sister ship Heliopolis were bought by the Canadian Northern Steamship Company. She was renamed the Royal Edward and her sister ship the Royal George.
The Royal Edward was equipped as an ocean liner and accommodated 344 people in first class, 210 in second class and 560 in third class. She was a steel, triple screw steamer of 11,117 tons and was fitted with submarine signalling apparatus and wireless. She operated a regular mail and passenger service between Avonmouth and Montreal in the summer and Halifax in the winter.
In 1914 at the start of the war she was requisitioned and became part of the Hired Military Transport service along with the Royal George. This resulted in the change of name from RMS Royal Edward to HMT Royal Edward. To begin with she brought troops from Canada to Britain and then for some months was anchored in Southend and used to hold enemy aliens. The ship was subsequently put into use transporting troops to the Dardanelles along with her sister ship.
On 28th July 1915 the ship sailed from Avonmouth for Gallipoli, Turkey. On board were reinforcements for the war in Turkey including men from the Norfolk Regiment who had transferred to the Essex Regiment. There were also many men from the Royal Army Medical Corps on board. In total there were 31 officers, 1335 men and 220 crew. After rough weather on the way to Gibraltar, the ship arrived in Alexandria on 10th August. On 12th August she left Alexandria for Moudros on the island of Lemnos, which was a stopping point for the Dardanelles. The Royal George had left the previous day. On the morning of the 13th August she passed the British hospital ship Soudan going in the opposite direction.
A German submarine UB14 which had recently arrived in the area sailed from Bodrum on 12th August. It was a small submarine of 127 tons, 90 feet long and less than ten feet wide with a crew of 14 men. The range of this submarine was very limited and to reach Bodrum she had had to be towed for a lot of the distance by an Austrian destroyer. She had arrived there in late July and had then been overhauled by a maintenance team which had travelled there by train and camel.
On leaving Bodrum the UB14 sailed past a hospital ship without attacking it. It also saw the Soudan on the 13th August and let it go. It next encountered the Royal Edward travelling unescorted. At 0915 hours, from a distance of under a mile, the UB14 fired a torpedo which struck the stern of the Royal Edward. The ship sank within six minutes. Immediately before it was struck the troops had been carrying out a boat drill and many had just gone below to stow their equipment. This contributed to the great loss of life as they could not get out when the ship tilted over so quickly. It was also difficult to launch some of the lifeboats because of the listing of the ship and men were ordered to jump into the sea. Some clung to the wreckage or to lifeboats that had been launched. Many drowned and their bodies have never been found. These men are remembered on the Helles Memorial on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey.
The Royal Edward was able to send out an SOS message before she sank. The hospital ship Soudan turned round and picked up survivors. Two French destroyers and some trawlers also helped with the rescue. Some men however were in the water for five hours or more before they were rescued.
The UB14 did not attack the rescue vessels but headed back to Bodrum.
The Royal Edward was the first troop ship to be sunk in First World War and resulted in the loss of about 1,000 lives. Its sinking highlighted the vulnerability of the troopships and measures were taken to rectify this.
Eastern Daily Press.-Wednesday 18th August to 6th September 1915